Chapter 3:

The One with the Hard Rock

Boundary Scramble

“Gosh, Sarika, I have so much to tell you about all the nutjobs at the peanut allergy table-”

Ruta blinked. She got home late that night, making a quick pitstop at Breadystack that turned into a long pitstop when she realized it was $3 calzone night. She arrived back home just in time before quiet hours and therefore curfew started. When she arrived back in her room, she expected the usual scene of Sarika at her desk, an intense look on her scrunched-up face as she poured over her life’s work. Ruta wished she would talk more, but she supposed Sarika had more important things on her mind.

In any case, instead of that scene, Ruta walked in on a room with the lights off. Completely dark. This was odd, because the curfew required Sarika to stay here. And Sarika never broke curfew before.

Utterly puzzled, Ruta closed the door behind her. She flicked on the lights-

Sarika suddenly became visible, formerly standing in the darkness behind her. Before Ruta could yelp, Sarika grabbed her from behind, clasping a strong hand over her mouth. Sarika more or less tackled Ruta into the bed, pinning her arms behind her back.

“Sarika, what’s going on?” she yelped out, her mouth still muffled.

“Where are my notebooks?” Sarika said, the calm tone in stark contrast with her utter manhandling of Ruta.

“What? What do you mean?”

“They’re gone.” Anger seeped its way into her voice.

“I have no idea what’s going on-”

“You’re my roommate, you’re my first suspect.”

“I don’t know anything, I swear to God-”

“Swear to me!”

Ruta almost passed out from the chaos, but then she detected something else in Sarika’s words. Her tone wasn't entirely composed of mere anger by now. Some of it was fear. Sarika herself was afraid. Ruta knew Sarika well enough to understand that Sarika would never admit when she was afraid; just like right now, she covered it up with something else - her anger, her life's work.

Ruta composed herself. “Sarika, I’m telling the truth. I don’t know anything that happened. Now, please, let go of me so I can help you solve this.”

Sarika kept her strong grip on her roommate for a moment, but then slowly relented. She got off of Ruta then collapsed into the chair at her desk.

Ruta rubbed her wrists. “Jeez. I’m your roommate and best friend. I should be the person you trust the most, rather than the prime suspect.”

Sarika wiped her face and ran her hand through her hair. “You’re right. This is just overwhelming.”

She caught Ruta up to speed. Unlocked door, notebooks gone.

“They didn’t take anything else,” Sarika concluded. “But, even though they tried to move everything back to the way it was, you can tell the things on my desk were moved around. Whoever took my research was specifically looking for my notebooks.”

Ruta took up her usual position of sitting cross-legged on her bed. “Hmm. Why was the door left unlocked? You’d figure they’d lock it again after getting inside.”

“Never attribute to malice what you can attribute to stupidity,” Sarika supposed. She looked over her desk. “They did a sloppy job of getting my desk back in order. Maybe the person just forgot?”

It sounded weak, but Sarika knew people were often weak.

A metaphoric lightbulb flickered on above Ruta’s head. “Oh, we should check the security footage! If the person came in through the door, then the hallway camera should’ve got them!”


“That’s odd,” the security guard exclaimed. He rubbed a meaty hand across his chin as he sat with Sarika and Ruta in his office later that evening. Grainy footage of the dorm’s security tapes played on his triple monitors (with a paused battle royale game running on a fourth).

The trio had fast-forwarded through the day’s security footage. Ruta and the guard gasped, while Sarika remained stone-faced, when around five PM, the security camera on their floor suddenly went black.

“That is odd!” Ruta agreed. “Did it short-circuit, blow a fuse, or do some other weird electronic-related thing?”

“No, take a closer look,” Sarika realized. “The screen didn’t cut to black, it’s more like it was covered.”

The guard rewound the footage then ran it again in slow motion. Sure enough, the camera didn’t instantly go black; something dark crossed in front of it, reducing the view until the camera could only see black.

“Let me check the other floors,” the guard offered. Unfortunately, the same story appeared on every floor - something covered all the cameras, letting the intruder do his dirty work while remaining invisible to the long arm of a dorm room security office.

Sarika sighed. “Guess we’ll have to think of something else then. Thanks.”

The guard nodded. “Sorry about this.”

The two girls trudged off, closing the door behind them. The guard placed his headset back on and put the game back on his main screen.

“Hey sorry guys, I’m back.”


Ruta sat cross-legged on her bed while Sarika paced around their room.

“Think, Sarika, think,” she muttered. “Who could’ve done this?”

Ruta took a bite out of Sarika’s half-eaten calzone from the other day. “Yeah, you really need ranch with these things. But anyway, if I had to put on my thinking cap for a moment, who would know about your notebooks?”

“Only me and you,” Sarika answered. Out of options, she pulled her emergency stress ice cream out of their fridge and ate it while she paced. “But that’s a good line of thinking. Who knew about my plans to overcome death?”

Sarika and Ruta gasped at the same time. “Everybody in the classroom today!”

Sarika smacked a fist into her palm. “Of course. The crime occurred at five PM - that’s right after the clubs get out for the day. That’s exactly the time that a student would be able to strike. Who’s in a club in our class?”

“Everyone,” Ruta said while angling her mouth to eat a piece dangling dangerously off the calzone. “Clubs are mandatory.”

“Of course, of course.” Sarika scooped a big spoonful into her mouth. “And Mr. Connolly is an assistant on the track team-”

Sarika groaned. “Why didn’t I think of this earlier today? I literally had a cryptic conversation with Connolly earlier today about my research!”

“And he’s a teacher!” Ruta realized. “He could use his nefarious connections to the administrative-bureaucratic school complex to get access to the keys!”

Sarika threw her shoes on. “I’ll go interrogate that bastard-”

“Wait, Sarika!” Ruta interrupted. Clearly impatient, Sarika struggled to remain in place.

“Where would you even find him now?” she asked. “Do you know where he lives? Any of his contact information? If you go out now, you’ll only tire yourself out and might even get into trouble. Let’s go to his office first thing tomorrow morning!”

“I’ll just go find him right now,” Sarika decided, reaching for the door.

“Aw, c’mon,” Ruta pleaded. “You keep wanting to do all things by yourself. You put up all these boundaries around you, not letting anyone else in. Those boundaries almost got me tortured by you! Just trust me. We’ll figure this out together.”

Sarika simmered, but put her hand back to her side. “Alright. We’ll go tomorrow morning."


He was not there tomorrow morning.

Sarika and Ruta stood outside the door to his office at Vyse, only to find the nameplate removed.

“This doesn’t make any sense,” Sarika groaned. “One day, he gives me cryptic clues, and the next, he’s just gone?”

“Maybe he made off with your research,” Ruta suggested. She backtracked upon seeing the look of alarm on Sarika’s face. “Or maybe, maybe he just switched offices!”

Sarika narrowed her eyes “Or maybe they moved him to a farm upstate. I’m getting to the bottom of this. I’m seeing Principal Holloway.”

Sarika marched off, only to realize that Ruta had remained in place. Despite the heat, Ruta shivered. “I can’t go see Holloway again. I’m scared.”

“Fair enough.” Sarika continued her march.

“Hey, wait, wait!” Ruta called out. “Isn’t this supposed to be the part where we argue, you call me a coward or something, and that temporarily drives us apart, until we come to realize we truly need each other?”

Down the hallway, Sarika shrugged. “But I don’t need you. This is my work. I’ll do it alone if I need to. If you’re scared, that’s cool, because you’re you. And at the same time, I’m me.”

With that, Sarika left Ruta standing there. She continued on, heavy footsteps taking her around the academy’s maze-like corridors and hallways until she finally arrived at the principal’s office on the top floor of the school.

A number of secretaries and administrators scurried around the hallways like rats. Nobody stopped Sarika, so she gave a few forceful knocks on Holloway’s door.

“Come in,” he called out. Sarika entered and with her tunnel vision focused on the immediately objective at hand, she stared down the principal sitting behind his desk, ignoring anything else in the office.

“Ah, young Sarika,” he greeted. “Please take a seat.” He held up a box of crackers. “You want some?”

Sarika remained standing. “No thanks.”

Holloway gave her a jovial smile. “No thanks?”

Sarika kept her face neutral and her tone forceful. “Where’s Mr. Connolly?”

Holloway put the box of crackers back down his desk.

“Before I answer you, please, allow me to teach you something,” Holloway intoned, his voice almost taking on a singsong-like quality. “You arrive in my office without an appointment, then remain standing when you ask about a teacher, rejecting my offer to sit. Clearly, you don’t trust me.”

Sarika tried to remain composed, but her eyes briefly darted around the office. Was it just her imagination, or did the walls seem to lose some of their color?

“Oh, you shouldn’t dart your eyes around like that,” Holloway commented. “You continue to give yourself away. Not only do you distrust me, but you're afraid. You’re fearful, deep down. If you came in, took your seat, and ate some of my crackers, perhaps I would’ve been fearful. Because if you asked me about Mr. Connolly in a composed tone, then I would realize you’d be confident about finding him.”

He leaned over his desk. The wall behind him seemed to lose its color. “But you’re not confident, are you? You’re acting scared. You came right here to ask about him. When a person is calm, I have everything to fear. But when you’re afraid, that’s when I remain calm.”

The air in the room felt unnaturally stale, muggy and humid, clinging to Sarika. She wiped her forehead. “I’d like to know where he is.”

“I see. I see.” Holloway rummaged through his desk and pulled out a juice box. He took a long sip, then gave Sarika a calm look. “You must need something from him. Some unfinished business between the two of you. That’s why you’re scared - you must find him, otherwise that business will remain unfinished forever.”

Holloway leaned back in his seat. “This nation used to build railroads. Now look at us. Scared because we can’t find somebody. There’s no need to be afraid. Life’s all about duality. You either find him or you don’t. A fifty percent chance. What’s to fear about a fifty percent chance? Yet, we remain scared of those odds all the same. We need a one hundred percent chance, perhaps as low as eighty-seven, before acting. It’s moments like these that truly define us.”

Holloway slurped from his juice box. Sarika narrowed her eyes, but it felt like the room spun around her. Colors seemed to drain away from the floor below him.

“Unfortunately, Mr. Connolly has been sent for training due to his repeated violation of our no smoking policy,” Holloway explained. “Oh, but you don’t trust me, so there’s no guarantee, from your point of view, that what I say is the truth. What is truth, anyway? Truth is the Socratic form, the Mishima limit to the body, but due to our senses, our language, we can only receive bits and pieces. My bits and pieces are different from your bits and pieces. Therefore, my truth is different from your truth. Who’s truth is more correct?”

Sarika felt like she was burning up. Involuntarily, she gripped the top of the chair next to her.

“You can either accept my truth of Mr. Connolly’s absence, or prove your own,” Holloway informed her. “That’s your decision to make. Which will it be?”

Sarika wiped her forehead. “Can’t you, you know, just give me his contact information?”

Holloway shook his head. “Unfortunately, our policy is to not give away faculty information without their permission. Of course, that could merely be my truth, while your truth about our policies is something completely different. Will you go searching for him?”

Holloway stood up. Lights seemed to flicker overhead. “What will it be, Sarika? Will you go for your truth and keep chasing your destiny? Will you fight? Or will you accept my truth, and perish like a dog?”

“...uh…” Sarika took deep breaths. “Are you telling me…to go searching for him?”

“I’m telling you to make a decision. Making decisions are the most important things in life. Either choice poses no problems for me.”

Holloway then sat back down, tossed a cracker in the air, and caught it in his mouth. The colors returned to the office; the stale air left.

“Now, go be a good student!” he said with a smile.


When fourth period ended and the substitute teacher waved goodbye, Sarika and Ruta departed for lunch. Ruta could feel the despondency rolling off of Sarika in heavy waves. Sarika didn’t say anything, so Ruta decided not to press her. Her body language said it all, anyway.

They arrived in the cafeteria, a cavernous room with sleek tiled floors and fluorescent-lights hanging overhead. They went their separate ways, Sarika sitting with her class, Ruta eyeing the empty seat that would’ve hers next to Edith, then continuing onward until she arrived at the isolated table known as the designated spot for those with peanut allergies.

They were a sorry lot. Five other kids sat there with her, their eyes downcast, pushing around their tofu or whatever the hell peanut allergy kids ate (Ruta went to do some research on what peanut allergy kids can eat, but got bored and decided to just eat fruit). The conversation was nonexistent, the air heavy, and even the fluorescent lights above them seemed to avoid their table.

Such silence would utterly drive Ruta insane. She needed conversation, she needed liveliness, yet all this table offered her was a slow death.

Unless, of course, she changed it! If peanut allergy kids suffered from the boundary around them, isolating them from the wider cafeteria community, simply due to the nature of their birth and immune system, then Ruta would break that boundary and bring the feeling of community to them! Lunch time should be the best time of the day, sharing snacks and stories and feelings of camaraderie.

Ruta was going to break that boundary, here and now.

“You guys, uh, come here often?” she began, looking hopefully around the table.

There had been so little conversation that Ruta hadn’t even learned their names. Fortunately, through their body language, she could at least decipher a little bit about them.

She knew the even shorter girl she called Heart would at least take the bait. “I eat here every day,” she answered. Ruta called her Heart because there was just a hint of liveliness in the way she scooped the food to her mouth, but her words came out dull and sullen.

“Wow, same here!” Ruta answered. “Anybody…anybody else?”

Nobody said anything. They all just pushed around their food - Fire, named for her red hair; Earth, named for his rotund body shape; Water, named for the soda he always drank; and Wind, because it was the last name Ruta hadn’t used. All of them looked miserable, wishing to be anywhere but here.

“Hmm,” Ruta pondered. “Oh, I know! Some music will liven us up!”

Ruta placed her phone on the table, picked out a song, and closed her eyes and nodded and sang along to the hottest hit of 1994.

“Oh, what’s with these homies, dissing my girl-”

Ruta heard someone clap. She thought it was the rest of the table, or perhaps even the rest of the cafeteria, ready to break boundaries and reunite these sorry peanut allergy bastards with the rest of the wider community, but the clapping came from none other than Edith and Rankin, standing line for their lunch. After the lunch lady tossed some nachos onto their trays, they walked over, Bass following behind them.

“I didn’t know you were so talented,” Edith commented.

Rankin gave a haughty laugh. “Peanut freaks and Pooper.”

Ruta frowned and turned off the music. She sat back down, and the table became silent again. She ran a hand through her hair, feeling so incredibly, incredibly small.

The three rich girls walked off, leaving the peanut table to ruminate in despair.

Or maybe not quite. Ruta felt a hand on her shoulder. Heart stood next to her, offering an encouraging smile. “I don’t care what they say about us anyway.”

Ruta felt like a boundary right then and there had just been broken.

“You’re right. I don’t care about that!”

Ruta looked at all her new friends, all of them smiling back. They each offered her their support; the conversation gradually picked up after that as they revealed their own past experiences; then negative experiences moved into the topic of positive interests; Wind asked Water what his favorite kind of soda was, Fire and Earth traded snacks, Heart helped Ruta run the conversation. Liveliness, friendliness, and community and all that jazz.

“This is the power of hard rock!” Ruta realized.